I turn 26 today. I wanted to write a piece like this when I turned 25. I think I just chickened out or thought that I really didn’t need to add my voice to the static noise of the Internet. I still don’t, but you’re reading this now. I think that is what has changed the most this past year. I’ve found my own voice and am cutting my own path through the jungle. I found my courage. I’ve experienced a lot in 26 years. Most people when they meet me say things like “you’re an old soul,” or “you wise beyond your year.” Truth is I’ve seen things that I don’t wish on anyone else, I have experience a lot and done a lot that make me the man I am today. It is not the year of the car but the mileage that matters. I’ve experienced triumph and defeat. I’ve known love and am well acquainted with heartbreak. I’ve seen my words change the life of other people, for better and for worse. I’ve proven myself against peers twice my age who thought I was disqualified because of my youth and I’ve painted a picture of a vibrant future for kids half my age who can’t see past the muck of today. But today, I am 26.

I remember when I was little, like 8 years old, looking up at my cousins and thinking, “wow, what does it feel like to be 21.” Truth is your 20’s don’t feel much different you just get more responsibilities. The money you used to spend on a bag of gummy bears and cap guns now goes to paying off your college loans. That is growing up. I think the biggest part about your 20’s people don’t talk about is discovering yourself. You get to find out who you really are, what you are made of and what you are made for in this world. We begin to define our own values to live by. We cling to these values because by them we view the world. Here are some of my values and some things I’ve learned in these 26 years.

Love people unapologetically and unconditionally. Not just family or friends. Complete strangers too. Hold doors open, smile a lot, say, “you’re living the dream” instead of “I’m ok” when people ask how you’re doing. Buy someone a cup of coffee or write them an encouraging note. Put yourself second (or third), always. Don’t think what people can do for you, but think what you can do to make someone else’s day better. Your heart will be so much better for it.

Family matters. I remember when I was 18 I couldn’t wait to get to college and leave family. I miss them. I miss nights sleeping in the same room as my little brother talking about life. I miss staying up late with my Dad to watch old school cartoons. Family dynamics have changed. In the end we just show up for one another. We talk weekly but it is especially hard living an 8 hour car ride away. Show up for your family. Call one another. Send your siblings stupid text messages that say you love them. Pray for them on the phone when they’re having a bad day. Call them by their childhood nicknames even when they’re 21. Love the people they love and their own families they are creating. Seek forgiveness when you say something stupid or hurt one another. Listen to your parents more, they are older than you and therefore have seen more. You were born into your family. Seek healing when it is needed and pursue unity as a family.

I don’t care how big and tough think you are, when a kid gives you a fake phone, you pick up and start talking. When you’re handed a lightsaber you better begin a duel to the death, and include sound effects. Don’t lose sight and the joy of being a child. The world is already bitter and cynical, don’t add to it. Live a life that allows people younger than you to see hope and sense your joy. Spoil your nieces and nephews and love your friends kids and much as you love your friends. Be imaginative and creative again. They will teach you about joy and life and laughter. Being around kids will stop you from growing bitter with the world. Sing with friends in the car and when you’re working out. Laugh. Smile. Allow yourself to have fun again.

Be passionate about something. Deep down in you there is something that you are passionate about. Maybe you want to start a non-profit, maybe you want to pursue a dream. Along the road of growing up we have forgotten what it meant to dream. We got suckered into being “reliable, steady, safe” instead of being “fearless, driven, passionate.” Which describes you? What drives you? What excites you? Go after it. Pursue what you are called to do in this life. Pursue passion, pursue life, and pursue your dreams. Stop wasting so much time being unhappy. You do not have much time life. Get going.

Believe in something bigger than yourself. For me I believe in God. Everything I do I hope will point to Him. I fail a lot. But I still pursue my faith. All the previous things are done because God loves me and I want to try to emulate that. This life isn’t about you. A life lived in for others, for more than yourself, for God is the only life worth living. If your life points to you, you’re doing it wrong.

I am excited for the years to come. I have a lot more to learn. I get asked a lot if I would go back and do things differently. Probably not. By the Grace of God I am who I am.

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